Precautionary Tactics

October 17, 2013 / Local Interest
Le Marche

I have sweet memories of my grandmother, but sometimes the most curious ones lie at the forefront. Nonna was a tad “scaramantica“, though she, as a devout Catholic, would never admit to it. When I asked her why she was superstitious, she told me, “Scaramantica, io? No, no, queste sono solo precauzioni.

Yes, there were many “precautions” beyond the basic “don’t open an umbrella in the house” and “black-cats-equal-iella”. The bed was no place for hangars, loose change or hats. Flowers should be given in odd numbers. No more than two people should make the bed. A bride should not make her own bed the night before she gets married. Oh, and thirteen people at lunch or dinner is no good. Best to set the table for 14, you know, as a precaution. And please, we do not make a toast with water, and we do not cross over other people’s arms when toasting.

Travelling was dicey. I was not to travel on the 17th, which is a very unlucky number, but Nonna also informed me “Né di Venere né di Marte non si sposa né si parte, né si dà principio all’arte”, which means you don’t get married on Tuesdays or Fridays, you do not do important business on those days, and you certainly do not get in a car or a plane on Martedì or Venerdì either. When you do the math, I don’t know how she ever got anything done.

"Today is Friday the 17th; Closed as a Precautionary Tactic / for Superstition"
Today is Friday the 17th, Closed as a Precautionary Tactic – for Superstition

The best memory was when my grandmother strolled around my new house and surreptitiously put red ribbons on a few of my door handles. She said, “I will hide them in the back. They are small, you won’t even notice them”. Further investigation led me to discover that the red ribbons would keep away “gli invidiosi” (the envious). But, she said I wasn’t to worry . . . it was only a precaution.

red ribbon

Enrica Frulla

by Enrica Frulla

Enrica was born in Italy, raised in the United States and is now living in Senigallia, on the coast of the beautiful Le Marche region. A marketing consultant in a past life, Enrica is now a freelance translator. Recently, her creativity and passion for telling people what to do has also  “translated” into an event planning business.

27 Responses to “Precautionary Tactics”

  1. Loved this telling of the old ways….brings back memories of my nonna! Grazie

  2. I think some of those “precautions” originated in a generation rather than a geographical location. My maternal grandmother would occasionally put forward one of precautions – she was from Scandinavia – one wonders if these precautions have some connection to historical events in the early 1900’s. Any thoughts?

  3. Anna Endgdahl

    My mother was born and grew up in Senigallia. You don’t hear it mentioned much. Thank you.

  4. Kathleen Avalone

    My nonna had open scissors over her door frames.I would love to know the “precaution” reason for that.

  5. Tony DiGiulio

    Brings back memories of my nonna from 30 years ago – so devout, but so superstitious! Loved her – Miss her!!!

  6. Great piece, I love the family superstitions! My family had a superstition about buttons on the table while eating, has anyone heard of this one? Grazie Maryann

  7. My Swiss sister in law’s grandmother always slept with an open scissor under her pillow

  8. LOVE your story. My grandmother who was Calabrese, almost jumped to correct me one day when I twisted a breadbag shut, and then laid down the loaf of bread…UPSIDE DOWN. Apparently that was a HUGE no no!

  9. Italia grasso

    Mia nonna non pianta a Mai persemolo nel giardino, mete solo semi, perche, lepiante portavano dis grazie tutto lanno,

  10. Allan Mahnke

    These things are always so fascinating. It’s always interesting to see what our ancestors developed to ensure good outcomes. Technically these little habits or coustoms are called apotropaic, which means that they “turn away” bad luck, misfortune or the “evil eye.”

  11. The upside down bread was a no no in our family also, and red ribbons must be for good luck for whenever we got a new vehicle my mother would give us a red ribbon to be kept in the car, another strange custom was covering all mirrors in the house when someone passed away.

  12. Enrica Frulla
    Enrica Frulla

    Hi everyone, thank you for your lovely comments! I have never heard the scissors superstitions. Those are wild. I am probably the least superstitious person here in Le Marche, but I find these old “credenze” very interesting as they were a way to explain things that would happen in everyday life. Here in Le Marche we have many superstitions tied to food, probably because this has always been an agricultural area and the contadini were always hoping for a healthy crop and food on the table. For example, when we crack open a walnut we aren’t supposed to share the contents (bad luck). Lentils are to be eaten on January 1st (they “bring in money” for the year), and if you spill wine on the table it’s good luck. Other fun “porta bene” (lucky) superstitions, off the top of my head: “sposa bagnata sposa fortunata” (if it rains on your wedding day you are a lucky bride), stepping in doo-doo, a ladybug on your shoulder, and finding a rusty and curved nail. As for the “porta male” superstitions, there are too many to count! Ciao a tutti.

  13. Great, Erica. So much fun to hear about. Please do us another Note on the porta male superstitions. We want to make sure that we avoid anything dreadful!

  14. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Marvellous stuff! I so enjoyed this. I once stood behind a teenage boys in Naples waiting to board a plane – seating was not assigned. I hear one tell the other the equivalent of: ‘Whatever you do, don’t sit in row 17.’ Which made me think, excuse me, if row 17 has a problem, surely the rest of us have a problem too!

  15. George Virgilio

    I did not think my mom superstitious. However as a very your child I remember going under her bed and finding a pair of scissors embedded in the spring and a red ribbon tied on the coils. I get the ribbon, but never found out about the scissors. Any help?

  16. Anne Robichaud

    Very much enjoyed and always eager to hear our Umbrianfarm neighbors’ superstitions, eg, Peppa never shakes out a tablecloth at night (only the next morning) and here, too, bread never put on the table upside down – bread sacred and never thrown out, hence the plethora of bread recipes in Italy – panzanella, breadcrumbs in many dishes, etc
    Grazie, Enrica!

  17. Anita Fiorini

    Thank you, it is so much fun to read all the superstitions, they sounded familiar. One was to never use anything on Friday. Another is you laugh
    on Friday you will cry on Sunday. I know I never did anything new on
    Friday but to this day I never remembered on Sunday if I cried. Did any
    one have a horseshow over their front door? My grandparents did. I still
    remember my mother taking away evil eye by putting a drop of oil in a bowl
    of water. If it spread, you had evil eye. She did it over and over until it
    didn’t spread. Then she would yawn and then put salt on the water.
    We had so many, can’t remember them all. It is nice to compare with

  18. Our family is Sicilian and has a tradition where we put a leaf of lettuce, a knife and a fork, a quarter, all tied with a red ribbon and you put the whole thing outside before it turns midnight on new years, and take it back in the next day.

  19. Patrizia

    This Note reminds me of a few “proverbi” I grew up hearing from my mother: “Capelli e guai non mancano mai” (consolation when you got a bad haircut). “Chi bella vuol comparire qualcosa deve soffrire” (when combing through a knot in my hair). “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” (when deciding where to spend the holidays). Ciao mamma. Ti voglio tanto bene.


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